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Sahel Crisis Crescendos: 18 Million People Now Face Life-Threatening Food Shortages

Cumulative climate shocks have devastated harvests, ruined food reserves, and left millions of children at risk of malnutrition
A million children in the Sahel need our help.
A million children in the Sahel, like this Mauritanian girl, need our help. Photo: A. Garcia, ACF-Mauritania

When a crisis as complicated and deep-rooted as the one in Africa’s Sahel region hits, getting a sense of the size and scope of it can be daunting. That’s why we want to share the latest information on what’s going on at the country and regional levels.

A Region Under Mounting Pressure

Drought, poverty and skyrocketing food prices have exhausted families’ food reserves across the western Sahel as staple cereals cost 30% to 100% more than the average price for the past five years. Since the severe drought of 2005, communities have not had two consecutive years of good harvests, and the lack of rainfall has ruined harvests and forced farmers to sell their animals at low prices to buy food.

In other troubling developments, the annual hunger season, which usually lasts from July to October, began five months early this year, and there are now more than 18 million people affected by the food crisis, the highest concentration in the region since 2005. One million children could die from severe acute malnutrition in West Africa, and three million more are at risk of moderate acute malnutrition.

Action Against Hunger first warned of this crisis as early as October 2011 using satellite imagery tracking temperature, water vapor, vegetation health and other indicators that showed worrying trends in biomass losses. As this crisis continues to grow, we’re putting our long-term presence in the region into action—responding in Senegal, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso and northern Nigeria—and aim to assist some 800,000 people across the region.

Below, an overview of the situation and our country-by-country efforts across the western Sahel.

Niger

Niger remains one of the world’s poorest countries and one of the most vulnerable in the Sahel, with six million people affected by the current food crisis. We’ve been working in Niger since 1997, and are currently focusing on the regions of Tahoua (Keita) and Maradi (Mayahi).

  • Cash-for-Work Programs: Our cash-for-work programs provide vulnerable families with income while stimulating the local economy. Our teams are building water points to supply communities with clean drinking water.
  • Influx of Malian Refugees: In Ayorou our teams are assisting 15,000 refugees who have fled conflict in Mali by building showers and latrines and promoting good hygiene practices, while providing vulnerable families with targeted cash transfers. 
  • Nutrition + Food Security: We are racing to diagnose and treat malnourished children while working to strengthen the health system, ramping up our food security and cash transfer programs and providing access to safe water and sanitation.
  • The Numbers: Our teams have assisted 156,142 people in Niger to date. 

Mauritania

We’ve been in Mauritania since 2007, and are presently working across the regions of Gorgol (Kaedi) and Guidimakha (Selibaby) to help families weather the crisis through food security, nutrition and water and sanitation programs.

  • Aiding the Most Vulnerable: Programs include cash transfers for the most vulnerable families, such as those led by single mothers and widows, and training in areas such as education and hygiene in exchange for a salary.
  • Building Program Capacity: In Selibaby, teams are treating malnourished children and are strengthening the work of doctors and nurses in health centers. In addition, teams have begun to work in the refugee camp of M'Bera, home to 65,000 Malians who have fled conflict.
  • The Numbers: We’ve assisted 67,510 people so far.

Mali

We’re working across Bamako, Gao, Kita and Yowarou, supporting families with cash transfers to help improve their food security and diagnosing and treating children suffering from malnutrition.

  • Focusing on Nutrition: In Gao, in northern Mali, we’re working with local staff in hospitals to combat child malnutrition. Teams are operating three units in the hospital: treating children with severe acute malnutrition that requires hospitalization, treating children with severe acute malnutrition in an outpatient program, and treating moderate acute malnutrition.
  • The Numbers: Teams have assisted 169,796 people in Mali. 

Senegal

800,000 people in Senegal are affected by the food crisis. To respond, we launched programs in Matam, in the country’s northeast, this past April. 

  • Reducing Infant Mortality: Our primary goal is to reduce infant mortality across the region in children ages five and under. Teams are working in Ourossogui hospital and 64 other health centers, to train and support health workers in the treatment of malnutrition, provide equipment, improve access to clean water and arrange community visits to detect malnourished children.
  • By the Numbers: We’ve reached 2,593 people so far.

Chad

We’ve had operations in Chad since 1982, and most recently focused in on two regions where the food crisis has reached emergency levels and child malnutrition rates are very high – Kanem and Bahr el Gazal.

  • Focusing on Food + Security: We’re coordinating with local health services to strengthen the screening and treatment of malnourished children. We’ve also established mobile clinics to reach children suffering from malnutrition in remote areas, and run a cattle program to help give families food security.
  • Staving Off Cholera: Following the outbreak of cholera last year, teams are working to prevent further cases.    
  • The Numbers: Last year alone, we assisted 356,123 people in Chad.

Nigeria

We’re active in Yobe and Jigawa, where our nutrition programs are helping the Nigerian government to strengthen its health system.

  • Empowering Health Workers: In 2011 our teams trained 1,000 public health workers and equipped and supported 53 medical centers, to treat more than 10,500 malnourished children.
  • Going Beyond Nutrition: In addition to supporting the health system and treating severely malnourished children, we’re also operating food security and livelihoods programs and providing families with safe water, sanitation and hygiene.
  • The Numbers: We’ve reached 56,800 Nigerians impacted by the Sahel crisis so far.

Burkina Faso

We’re currently assisting more than 10,000 refugees who have fled northern Mali to Burkina Faso, as well as scores of Burkina Faso natives.

  • Leveraging Cash Transfers: Our teams are also working to prevent malnutrition in the first place by distributing flour and cash to the most vulnerable families, as well as reviving agriculture.
  • Providing Baby Food: In Diapaga teams have launched a project to provide families with baby food, to prevent them from becoming malnourished.
  • The Numbers: Our programs helped 82,074 people in Burkina Faso last year.

What does the future hold?

We will move forward urgently on the quest to save lives. We also need to ensure that the next harvest in October is successful. In the medium- and long-term, it will be essential to strengthen agricultural producers against such climate shocks and reinforce communities’ livelihoods and resilience. It’s the only way to help prevent families in the Sahel from falling into crisis again. We can’t do it without your support. Thank you for helping us save lives today, while working to prevent future hardships.

Tell Us What You Think

Does the scope of the Sahel crisis surprise you? Did any numbers in particular stand out to you, and if so, why?

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About Elisabeth Anderson Rapport

Elisabeth Anderson Rapport, Senior Communications Officer

Elisabeth is Action Against Hunger's senior communications officer, reporting on our impact and current events around the world.

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